Knowing a lot of chords is key. Being able to switch between them all is a necessity. Great timing and rhythmic dexterity is music. The player that plays all the right notes and all the correct chords with sloppy rhythm will sound amateur. Playing “wrong” notes and even incorrect chords with strong, confident rhythms can still sound pretty musical.
Different types of rhythms, time signatures, rhythmic pulse, accents, nuances, etc., can be studied for life. It’s what makes learning music intriguing. There’s no end to what you can learn. Without exception, I find that students’ first ideas of how to strum rhythms is counter productive to actually playing in time and with good sense of groove. Playing consistently in time is dependant on consistent pick/strum hand movement. This will translate to controlled up/down strums. We’ll focus on eighth note grooves in this lesson.
First, make sure to tap your foot with the groove. This may seem to be complicating things, as we’re adding more movement and activity for you to keep track of while playing, but tapping your foot defines the pulse of the tune, so it’s important. Tap your foot!
Your strum hand will follow your foot, playing quarter notes, on beats 1, 2, 3, and 4 (assuming 4/4 time). I call this the “string” concept, as if you’ve got a string attached from the tapping foot to the strum hand. Strum down for each downbeat, or on the 1, 2, 3, and 4. What’s going to make for the interesting rhythm will be the down-up movement, where we will be hitting the strings on the up strum as well as the downstrum. Let’s start with all eighth notes, hitting the strings on down and upstrums.
To familiarize yourself with different chord changes, try the above chord progression using different combinations of the E form, A form, C form, and G form barre chords. Work out the fingering changes without rhythm first, and once you’ve got the chord change fingerings down, then strum the chords on all eighth notes. This will be strumming the strings on all up and down strums.
Next, let’s try leaving out one strum. What we’ll do is keep the hand moving in the familiar “down/up” pattern, but on one of the strums, we’ll miss the strings. “Air strum”, if you like:
Notice that if you “miss” the strings, this gives you an extra half beat to change one chord to the next. This also keeps the hand moving in a consistent “down/up” motion, but a different rhythm sound. You might put a little more emphasis on downbeat 4, which will be in sync with a drummer’s snare drum hit in a rock/pop/country beat.
Let’s move the “missing” strum forward by an eighth note. This will mean that we’ll be missing the strings on the downstroke at beat 4:
Here we are putting more emphasis on the upstroke on the “&” after beat 3 and the “&” after beat 4. Later, you may want to try changing the chord earlier, on the upstroke before the new measure.
Moving the “air strum” forward by another half beat, we’ll now be emphasizing beat 3:
Move forward another half beat, emphasizing the “&” after beat 2:
Try these same activities on the first two beats of each measure, and we’ll do a number of rhythmic formulas in future lessons. Keep practicing, tap your foot, and have fun!